Easy Baked Shrimp Mac and Cheese
This Easy Baked Shrimp Mac & Cheese recipe has a fun seafood twist, plus a little kick. Loaded with succulent shrimp and topped with crispy, buttery breadcrumbs, it’s irresistible!
Baked Shrimp Mac & Cheese, Oh How We Love Thee!
Our youngest daughter recently posed the question to the rest of our family, “What’s your favorite pasta dish?” And then she proceeded to share that hers was a creamy, ultra-cheesy macaroni and cheese.
It didn’t take me long to chime in that my favorite pasta dishes always involve seafood. Give me tender, succulent bites of shrimp, scallops, clams, crab, lobster, salmon – I love it ALL!
So this Easy Baked Shrimp Mac and Cheese is the ultimate gathering of these two favorites. This dish is total macaroni and cheese comfort, and it has made our home a very happy one! (And for those of you with families who have shrimp-lovers and shrimp-haters, I’ve included instructions that’ll make the whole family happy!)
“So, so, SO good! And easy. I prepped almost all of it the night before and made it with half of the cayenne pepper. We loved it, our girls 8-12 years old liked it. Looking forward to trying different cheeses, adding bacon, and trying chicken.”David
A few more of my favorite shrimp recipes: Margarita Grilled Shrimp is my absolute FAVORITE shrimp recipe. Also check out this Tropical Shrimp Salad, Grilled Shrimp Ceviche, and my mom’s Shrimp Dip recipe!
Seriously now. What’s not to love? All that pasta, cheese, and shrimp, blanketed in a buttery, crispy Parmesan breadcrumb topping. Absolutely irresistible!
I eliminated any need for chopping with this recipe, besides the optional parsley garnish. Instead of using fresh garlic and onion, I opted for jars from the spice drawer. This is a fabulous dish – you’re gonna love it!
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Pasta – We’re Cavatappi fans, so that’s what we use most often. But elbow or another shorter, similarly sized pasta would also work great.
- Butter – I always recommend unsalted, so you can control the salt.
- Garlic powder – Be careful to grab “garlic powder”, not “garlic salt”!
- Onion powder – Same advice as above. Onion salt would just add way too much salt!
- Cayenne pepper – This gives a nice kick to the dish, and this recipe isn’t shy about it. Simply use less if you’re not fond of heat.
- Black pepper
- Flour – Just a bit, to thicken up the cheese sauce.
- Half and half – This lends a nice decadence to the cheese sauce, without making it overly rich.
- Gruyere cheese – A melty cheese with nutty flavor.
- White cheddar cheese – Because EVERY mac & cheese deserves cheddar!
- Shrimp – I prefer a medium-sized shrimp for this recipe.
- Panko breadcrumbs – I adore panko for that super easy, buttery-crisp topping!
- Grated Parmesan – Just a little bit added to the breadcrumbs gives a hint of nutty, cheesy goodness.
- Parsley – Completely optional. Chop some up for a pretty, fresh garnish if you like!
How to Make Shrimp Mac and Cheese
There are countless ways to make baked macaroni and cheese. And there are so many people who think it’s difficult. So I’m here to share with you my family’s favorite mac & cheese recipe. I promise you, it’s super easy to make!
- Boil the pasta: Cook just to al dente, and then drain well.
- Make the sauce: Toast the spices in butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour, followed by the half and half. Simmer until thickened.
- Add shredded cheeses to sauce: Fold until melted.
- Add cooked pasta and shrimp: Fold until combined.
- Transfer mac and cheese to baking dish.
- Top with more of the shredded cheeses.
- Sprinkle buttery Parmesan breadcrumbs over the top.
- Bake until thoroughly warmed and bubbly!
A little tip for you!
If you care to show off the pretty shrimp that are baked into this dish, then pop a few of those babies up through the top layer of shredded cheese and breadcrumbs before it goes into the oven.
And then you’ll be rewarded with an extra fun, shrimp-teasing presentation!
Tips for the Best Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese
Just a few simple pieces of advice from our experiences making macaroni and cheese from scratch. Here goes!
- Don’t overcook the pasta. I REALLY dislike mushy noodles. Take care to cook the pasta to just slightly less than al dente, as it will then get mixed with the cheese sauce and cooked further in the oven.
- Set out the half and half. Before setting the water to boil for the pasta, I like to measure out the half and half. I let sit on the counter while preparing the rest of the dish. This takes the chill off and helps thicken the sauce quicker.
- Shred the cheeses yourself. Yes, it feels like an unnecessary step and it takes a little longer. But pleeeease shred the cheese yourself when making mac & cheese – it’s easy to do with a common box grater. Pre-shredded cheese is tossed in an anti-clumping agent that prevents it from melting as well as it should.
- Use medium-sized shrimp. I think that medium-sized shrimp are the perfect sized bite in a dish like this. Small shrimp get lost in the mix and take the glamour out of shrimp macaroni and cheese, and large shrimp have you wishing for a knife!
- Use ALOT of shrimp! This my selfish shrimp-loving heart talking. But I make no excuses. When I eat shrimp mac & cheese, I want PLENTY of plump shrimp bites!
What Kind of Shrimp Should I Use?
I recommend a medium sized shrimp for this dish. It’s big enough to give you that succulent shrimp bite, yet not too big that you feel like you need a knife. Look for ones that are labeled 51-60 count, which means there are 51 to 60 shrimp per pound.
Also, I suggest buying shrimp that is uncooked (raw). This will give you the most tender, succulent shrimp when baked in a dish like this. Look for raw shrimp that has already been peeled and deveined. It’ll make this dish a snap to prepare!
Fresh or frozen shrimp? It really doesn’t matter. I use both, depending on availability and price. If you purchase frozen, just be sure to let the shrimp completely defrost before you start making the mac & cheese.
What if Someone Doesn’t Like Shrimp?
I imagine that this is a common issue in families, that not everyone likes shrimp. It is in ours! So, to keep EVERYONE happy, I simply adjust the recipe a little.
Here’s what I do:
Use all the same ingredients, all the same amounts, except use just half the quantity of shrimp. When the cheese sauce has finished thickening, fold in the cooked pasta, and then divide the cheesy pasta between two 8″ x 8″ baking pans (or dishes of a similar size). Fold the shrimp into only one of those pans. And then proceed with the rest of the instructions, adding more shredded cheese and the buttery Parmesan breadcrumbs to the top of each pan. Bake both pans in the oven at the same time.
- Play with the heat level. This recipe includes 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. And I’ll admit that that’s not for everyone. But Blake and I love a seafood pasta that bites back a little! Simply reduce (a little or alot) or delete the cayenne entirely if you’re not a fan.
- Add bacon. Pasta, shrimp, cheese, and bacon are a heckuva wonderful combo. Fold in some chopped (already cooked) bacon for a tasty twist!
- Use your favorite cheeses. While our family loves the gruyere and white cheddar combination, maybe your family would be happier with different selections? I say go for it! Just be sure to use cheeses that are known for their meltability. And always use more than one variety, as this will lend more complex flavor. Some other choices for you: sharp cheddar, Gouda, Muenster, fontina, and Havarti. A smoked Gouda or Gruyere are also fun! Here’s a little more from Food Network on the subject of cheese.
- Swap out the shrimp. I already addressed what I do for those in my family who don’t like shrimp – I simply make half the recipe with shrimp, half the recipe without shrimp. However, you could also swap out the shrimp for some chopped, cooked chicken.
- Try an alternative to breadcrumbs. Crushed Ritz crackers also make a fun, crispy topping. Just use the same amount of crushed crackers as breadcrumbs.
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
Got leftovers? Cover them tightly and refrigerate for up to four days.
To reheat a single portion, place the desired amount of shrimp macaroni and cheese on a small plate or in a bowl. If it needs a little moisture, stir in a touch of milk or half and half. Then heat in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds or so, until thoroughly warmed. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a napkin to reduce spattering.
To reheat a larger portion, and when I have more time, I like to place the mac & cheese in a baking pan and warm it up in the oven again. To do this, add the macaroni and cheese to an appropriately sized baking pan, stir in a touch of milk or half and half if it needs moisture, and then tent the baking pan loosely with aluminum foil to keep the heat and moisture inside. Bake at 300° F for 25 to 40 minutes – total time will depend on how much macaroni you are reheating.
I love that this recipe is easy enough for a casual, weeknight meal and also fancy enough for a special dinner.
If you make this shrimp mac and cheese, please come back and let me know what you think – thank you!
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Baked Shrimp Mac and Cheese
- 16 ounces cavatappi pasta
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter divided
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper gives a nice kick to the dish, use less if you’re not fond of heat
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups half and half
- 12 ounces about 3 cups shredded gruyere cheese – use a box grater to shred
- 12 ounces about 3 cups shredded white cheddar cheese
- 2 pounds medium raw shrimp 51-60 count, peeled and deveined, tails off, patted dry
- ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
- fresh chopped parsley optional garnish
- Preheat oven to 400° F. Measure out the half and half, and set aside. Lightly spray a deep 9" x 13" baking dish, and set aside.
- Cook pasta per package directions, to slightly less than al dente. Drain very well; set aside.
- In a Dutch oven or large skillet over medium-low heat, add 4 tablespoons of the butter and melt. Add garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper to the butter. Stirring constantly, “toast” the spices in the butter for 30 seconds, until fragrant.
- Add flour to the pan and whisk to combine (a flat whisk works great for this!). Cook for 2 minutes, stirring fairly constantly. Slowly stream in half and half, whisking constantly, until lump-free. Turn up heat just a bit, between medium and medium-high. Bring mixture to a simmer and simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
- In a large bowl, mix together gruyere cheese and white cheddar cheese. Remove Dutch oven from heat and add half of the mixed cheese. Fold until cheese is melted.
- Add shrimp and cooked pasta to the Dutch oven, and fold to combine with the sauce. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish.
- In a small bowl, melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan, and stir to incorporate evenly.
- Add remaining cheese to the top of the dish. Sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until bubbly and the top is golden brown. If desired, place dish under broiler for a couple minutes to toast the breadcrumbs even more. Remove from oven and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle parsley over the top, right before serving, if desired.
pasta like Cavatappi or elbow. This packs a slight kick, so add the cayenne pepper to taste. I tend to use frozen shrimp most often as it's super convenient; just thaw before using and pat dry. For a pretty presentation, leave out about a dozen of the shrimp
and add to the top of the pasta before placing the remaining cheese and
breadcrumbs on top. Using half and half makes for a decadent mac and cheese. For a
slightly lighter version you can use whole milk and keep everything else the same. To make a half recipe, cut all ingredients in half and use an 8" x 8" baking dish. For families with shrimp-lovers and shrimp-haters: Use all the same ingredients, all the same amounts, except use just half the quantity of shrimp. When the cheese sauce has finished thickening, fold in the cooked pasta, and then divide the cheesy pasta between two 8" x 8" baking pans (or dishes of a similar size). Fold the shrimp into only one of those pans. And then proceed with the rest of the instructions, adding more shredded cheese and the buttery Parmesan breadcrumbs to the top of each pan. Bake both pans in the oven at the same time.